Catch up on a year’s worth of musicology with the Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll, now in its 36th year of goading the nation’s top parsers to struggle over the higher meaning of sonic culture. Review the singles top-1,761 and albums top-1,693, see how your favorite critics voted, and attend the deep thoughts of our celebrity panelists:
Andy Beta on chart-topping Dear Science: “Fear and loathing and loneliness still nestle and bristle inside the spaces of Dear Science — along with denial, complacency, distrust, and desperation — but the body-moving groove trumps all.”
Rob Harvilla on the top three singles: “[‘Paper Planes’] simultaneously hails a monumental electoral victory and seethes at a monumental financial collapse, consolidating what we’ve already won and laying out a blueprint to take back what we’ve lost. By force.”
Zach Baron freestyles on the crossroads of rap and politics: “Obama gave rap a sense of relevance at the exact moment that its most venerable artists were searching for one.” Tom Breihan on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III: “The amazing part of it is that the masses followed him down all these different rabbit holes, turning the album into the sort of hotly discussed blockbuster moment that music never, ever produces anymore.”
Clover Hope on the differing responses to romantic disappointment of Kanye West (“Love, he cannot compute. There, his language skews immature, controlling, and chauvinistic instead of introspective”) and Beyonce (“our heroine deploys ego as a crutch for misery”). Simon Reynolds defends the appropriationist approach of #2 album winner Vampire Weeked (“for better or worse, we’re all of us aristocratic listeners these days, able to sample ‘vibes’ from anywhere and everywhere”).
Sean Fennessey considers heartbreak kid Justin Vernon, whose For Emma, Forever Ago (album #8) “is without a true forebearer, a shaded and stolen moment, only occasionally hinting at Elliott Smith’s XO, another ambling but heartbreaking piece of popcraft.” Kandia Crazy Horse stacks Beyonce, who “strived to upgrade her image from mere commercial pitchwoman to critically acclaimed cyber-diva by appropriating postwar electric mysteries of the blues,” against the “fierce intellect and pompadoured power moves” of Janelle Monae. Jeff Weiss sees the future of the music industry: Mixtapes, “blogs, social-networking vortices, and torrent sites… The only hope for industry salvation is to tap into a modern spin on the Grateful Dead model.”
OK, back to the real world: In the Education Supplement we have Neil deMause and Elizabeth Green on how a judicial victory for city school funding has been undone by government squabbling and economic collapse, and stories on the rising demand and falling supply of student financial aid, the hard work of transitioning students from closing schools, and bleak prospects for post-grads looking for professorships. But don’t let that discourage you from considering some continuing-education classes!
All this and Michael Musto (Interviewing Will Ferrell!), Dan Savage, Free Will Astrology, Ask a Mexican, J. Hoberman on California Dreamin‘, Of Time and the City, and a Richard Roud tribute; Michael Feingold on the passing of Tom O’Horgan; Alexis Soloski on The Connection and The Judgment of Paris; Martha Schwendener on three new painting exhibitions; Deborah Jowitt on DD Dorvillier and Jeanine Dunning; Zach Baron on David Denby and Michael Robbins; and more, if you can believe it, accessible from the front page.